Every now and then we receive a guest post which stops you dead in your tracks. A post which truly captures the pressures of leading, and working in, a very busy comms team. The phrase ‘must read’ is over-used, but this post is a must read.
by Amanda Nash
When I interview people who want to join our team, I always tell them that no two days are ever the same; that it’s rewarding and exhilarating but it is, to be fair, a rollercoaster of a challenge.
We’re all guilty of trotting out truisms but over the last few weeks I’ve learned the power of my own words. I’ve been on my own rollercoaster ride and my stomach hasn’t quite settled yet.
I worked between Christmas and New Year so didn’t really get a full festive break. It’s my fourth year in a row of doing that – the perils of being the leader of a small team that is considered an essential service. Of course I’m not alone in this and many colleagues had to work Christmas Day and more, but it’s important to know because when we then hit the tsunami that is January in an NHS hospital, I’m already a bit tired.
It’s busy, it’s hard, everyone is coping but the strain of running on adrenaline fumes tells on their faces – nurses, doctors, bed managers, therapists, support staff. We’ve agreed with our local BBC that the cameras can come in and follow our operational team in early January, but we have to pull out. As we sit at the daily bed meetings, we see that our colleagues and friends have enough on their hands as we move in and out of OPEL 4, the highest alert status. It’s just not fair. So, in line with our values of putting Patients First and Respecting Others, we let the BBC down. Understandably they’re not happy.
My team is responsible for communicating with staff, being the experts and advising colleagues on social media; running websites, intranets, large-scale events such as Open Days, making patient information videos, apps and planning and implementing behaviour change and safety campaigns. In addition, over Christmas our fundraising campaign to raise money to refurbish our children’s wards achieved its target. We’re less than six whole time equivalent people.
On top of that we now face intense public and media scrutiny, which given the nature of media and social media, is 24-7. We’re one of the hospitals named by the British Red Cross, a local councillor gives her view and the BBC highlight us as an example of a hospital cancelling operations at short notice. This is all fair and proper scrutiny – it just takes some resource responding to it. When we share news that we’re on OPEL 4 via Facebook, it reaches 81,000 people organically.
Then I’m sitting at home one night, still working: I’ve been asked by one of our lead emergency consultants to run a session on an MSc course he’s running. I’m pondering how to structure my session and doing some research when I see, on social media, that my mother-in-law has shared this post about the NHS:
I challenge her openly and respectfully, with statistics that suggest the NHS as the fifth largest employer in the world is under, not over-managed and although there are good and bad of all types, everyone I know and work with in the NHS is trying their best for patients. I have in my mind the image of one of our operational team who looked broken as he tried everything he could to find a HDU bed to ensure a patient, whose cancer operation was at risk, went ahead. His tenacity paid off.
My mother-in-law doesn’t respond to my challenge so I can only think she means me.
It gets tougher for a bit, more work comes in, but suddenly the rollercoaster starts to slowly chug upwards again.
My team has volunteered and been trained to help patients with feeding on a Health Care of the Elderly ward at our hospital. The fantastic, funny, warm and lovely Healthcare Assistants were worried they hadn’t seen us over Christmas and that we’d stopped doing it. They were really pleased to see us back with them, part of their team. When I ask one of the patients how his lunch was, he replies: “All the better for you being with me helping.”
The rollercoaster keeps chugging upwards. My team leader – the Chief Exec who has more than enough on her hands – sees I’m on the edge as we talk about the value of baking as therapy in my 1 to 1. The next day when I walk back into the office, there’s a box of home-made cakes and a lovely thank you letter from my Chief Exec to me and the team. The cakes are lush and go down very well with our small team but the act of thoughtfulness brings a lump to my throat.
Our Deputy Director of Nursing pops by to tell us she’s just been to the Patient Council AGM. She’s buzzing. The Patient Council couldn’t speak highly enough of us and our team, they wanted it minuted how good we were and said we needed more resources. As a team, we’ve worked really hard with the Patient Council members and this is testament to that.
The pressure on our emergency pathways eases a bit and we talk to our colleagues about inviting the BBC back in. Should we? Shouldn’t we? Only when we’re sure they can manage it, do we say yes. The BBC come in and follow our Chief Nurse/Operating Officer around for a morning and see it for what it is, everyone pulling together and trying so hard to do the right thing.
That night I’m chatting on messenger to a friend of mine who is a nurse where I work. She’s just been a patient and we swap stories about how being on the other side gives you more empathy.
I explain that losing my Nan in December 2015 made me so committed to making #letsbeopen happen. When my 95-year-old Nan died, as a family we were able to care for her at home with the support at the very end of the local hospice. I couldn’t have imagined her being locked away in a hospital bed without anyone able to visit her for large parts of the day. But our visiting hours at the hospital were very restrictive at the time.
Between the stints of helping care for Nan, I was approached by Emma Wilkinson, one of our matrons. She had had her own personal experience elsewhere of feeling ‘locked out’ from a loved one’s care and wanted to extend visiting hours on wards. She asked for my help and support. She didn’t need to ask twice. Inspired as well by John’s Campaign, we worked with Emma and colleagues from Patient Services to get it off the ground then, when she left, we asked our Chief Nurse to find us two more matron champions – step forward the lovely Sue and Judy (pictured below).
We worked with them, behind the scenes – because that’s where you’ll find us, as a support service – to meet with staff, gather their views, hold open forums, test the idea with patients, write a Visitor’s Charter, launch the new opening hours (7.30am-10pm) and we finally went live in August 2016.
We’re now evaluating the first six months to see what, if anything, needs to change, including looking at quality measures such as falls and complaints. The feedback for #letsbeopen has been hugely positive from patients and visitors, but not from all staff. This is what we’re looking carefully at.
My nurse friend had no idea of the involvement of my team in driving this forward and the work we did with our matrons and Patient Service colleagues to make this happen. Why should she? The one thing we don’t often shout about is ourselves. Quietly, beavering away in the background to make things happen, we’re part of #1bigteam at our hospital trust where everyone, NHS managers included, is doing their best for patients. When my friend found out, she sent me this message:
Fantastic Mand, you’ve made a difference to everyone
Of course, it’ not just me. My comms team are part of #1bigteam. So here’s my own matron picture, taken by our one of our team – it’s a little bit more reflective of the health service I’m proud to be part of:
Amanda Nash is Head of Communications at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust
image via bwstock